Today we will dig deeper into the relationship of good works our debt of sin. Do our works have any relationship whatsoever in maintaining our justification?
The Confession continues, We cannot by our best works merit pardon of sin or eternal life at the hand of God, by reason of the great disproportion that is between them and the glory to come, and the infinite distance that is between us and God, whom by them we can neither profit nor satisfy for the debt of our former sins; but when we have done all we can, we have done but our duty, and are unprofitable servants; and because they are good they proceed from his Spirit, and as they are wrought by us they are defiled and mixed with so much weakness and imperfection, that they cannot endure the severity of God’s punishment.
Paul wrote in Romans 3:20, “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.” That is an exhaustive statement concerning the entire human race, regardless of the state of the individual’s salvation. There is no level of good in us that matches our level of depravity. Our best attempts at right living, or the fruit of the Spirit, are still marred with vanity and pride. We make light of our debt of sin when we think the good we do outweighs the wickedness we have already done and the evil still in our hearts.
The prophet Isaiah wrote, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us and have given us over to our sins” (Isaiah 64:6-7).
We deceive ourselves when we seek only what God can give us and confuse that with seeking God himself. The Scriptures are clear in many other places that no one truly seeks God; God is the one who seeks and saves the lost. Like our first parents, our sin nature is to run and hide from God. Isaiah says that God has given us over to our sins, and Paul says the same thing in Romans 1.
Anything not done in faith is sin (cf. Romans 14:23). Good works and right worship are simply impossible without the gift of faith. God does not hear the prayers of unbelievers because they are by definition not praying in faith.
In Luke 17, Jesus gives an example of the believer’s attitude toward good works. A master does not invite his servant to eat with him. A master does not thank his servant for what the servant has done. When we do good works in faith, the Christian simply says to God, “We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty” (Luke 17:10). God is owed far more than we can offer.
The Confession continues, Yet notwithstanding the persons of believers being accepted through Christ, their good works also are accepted in him; not as though they were in this life wholly unblamable and unreprovable in God’s sight, but that he, looking upon them in his Son, is pleased to accept and reward that which is sincere, although accompanied with many weaknesses and imperfections. Works done by unregenerate men, although for the matter of them they may be things which God commands, and of good use both to themselves and to others; yet because they proceed not from a heart purified by faith, nor are done in a right manner according to the Word, nor to a right end, the glory of God, they are therfore sinful, and cannot please God, nor make a man meet to receive the grace from God, and yet their neglect for them is more sinful and displeasing to God.
It is through Christ alone that we are saved, and it is through Christ alone that our works are accepted. Peter tells us that we, “by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:5). In the midst of our works, Christ is working. As no unbeliever sincerely seeks to obey God, so only in Christ do believers sincerely seek to obey God. Our sincerity does not make our works perfect, but they do be acceptable when done in faith.
When our works are done in faith, Hebrews tells us that “God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do” (Hebrews 6:10). Our works are not without shortcomings, but our loving Father accepts them because he accepts us as those without a debt to him. He himself paid that debt so his creation would not. And it is him that we serve with our good works.